CLEVELAND (AP) — Twelve members of a breakaway Amish group were charged with federal hate crimes in beard-cutting attacks on fellow Amish in eastern Ohio farm country, federal prosecutors announced Tuesday.
The seven-count indictment against Samuel Mullet and 11 relatives or members of his group include charges of conspiracy, assault and evidence tampering in what prosecutors say were hate crimes motivated by religious differences.
The five attacks between September and November involved cutting women's hair and men's beards and hair. That's considered deeply offensive in Amish culture.
The indictment also charges four of Mullet's children, a son-in-law, three nephews, the spouses of a niece and nephew and a member of the Mullet community in Bergholz.
Mullet and six of the suspects have been held without bond since their arrests in FBI raids Nov. 23 at the Mullet compound near Steubenville in eastern Ohio.
The five new suspects will be issued summonses to appear for arraignment, said U.S. attorney's spokesman Mike Tobin.
The indictment alleges a pair of previously unreported assaults in the Bergholz area. It says that on Sept. 24, at the home of one of the defendants, another provided an unnamed victim with a cup of coffee "laced with an over-the-counter product" intended to sicken the victim; it does not specify which product was used. It also alleges that, on the same day, three of the defendants and others enticed the victim to take a walk around the property, then restrained him and removed his beard and hair with scissors.
A message seeking comment on the indictment was left for Mullet's federal public defender in Cleveland. An attorney who represented Mullet when the case was in state court had said at the time that Mullet could fight the allegations.
Mullet told The Associated Press in October that he didn't order the hair-cutting but didn't stop his sons and others from carrying it out. He said the goal was to send a message to other Amish that they should be ashamed of themselves for the way they were treating Mullet and his community.
The others charged previously are Mullet's sons Johnny, Daniel and Lester Mullet; son-in-law Emanuel Schrock; nephew Eli Miller; and community member Levi Miller.
Newly charged are Mullet's daughter Linda Schrock; nephews Lester and Raymond Miller; Anna Miller, the wife of another nephew; and a niece's husband, Freeman Burkholder. Court documents didn't list attorneys for the five new suspects.
Lawyers for several other defendants didn't immediately return messages. Attorneys for Daniel Mullet and Eli Miller declined to comment. Neal Atway, attorney for Levi Miller, said his client planned to plead not guilty but said he couldn't comment further.
An FBI affidavit said three of Mullet's sons and a nephew and another community member had confessed in early October to taking part in at least a couple of the attacks.
Several members of the group carried out the attacks by forcibly cutting the beards and hair of Amish men and women and then taking photos of them, authorities said.
Cutting the hair is a highly offensive act to the Amish, who believe the Bible instructs women to let their hair grow long and men to grow beards and stop shaving once they marry.
Amish often mete out their own internal punishment and rarely report crimes to law enforcement. Some beard-cutting victims declined to press charges earlier.
The dispute with Amish bishops stemmed from Mullet's desire to excommunicate several members, the FBI said. Other bishops concluded the excommunications weren't consistent with Amish teachings and scripture and decided not to recognize the penalties, the FBI said.
The FBI affidavit that led to the arrests detailed hair-cutting attacks in Carroll, Holmes, Jefferson and Trumbull counties, including a man allegedly lured to the Mullet complex in Jefferson County.
Ohio has an estimated Amish population of just under 61,000 — second only to Pennsylvania — with most living in rural counties south and east of Cleveland.
AP Legal Affairs Writer Andrew Welsh-Huggins in Columbus contributed to this report.